Three Primary Measures to Prevent Contaminants from Entering Your Data Center

Contaminants are introduced into a data center space from many different sources, in many different sizes. Each pose a different type of threat to IT equipment. A contaminate must have the physical properties to damage equipment and have the mobility to reach equipment. Contaminants endanger hardware function and a data center’s ability to maintain uptime. It is more beneficial to prevent contaminants that enter a data center in order to decrease the potential for contaminant related failure. Here are three main measures to help prevent contaminants in data centers.

1. Maintain and Clean the Cooling System 

A data center’s cooling system circulates clean air to server rooms. Contaminants that are small enough to become airborne can then circulate in the cooling system accessing hardware and potentially causing damage and outages. Belt debris is one contaminate source can go unseen for quite some time. Belt debris is generated from the friction of belts running on slightly misaligned pulleys that are running the actual cooling unit. These belts can shed thousands of particles daily.  Belt debris can look like dirt or dust, and is often mistaken as such, instead of being the correctly identified. There are a few ways to minimize belt debris. The pulleys in the system should be regularly realigned to reduce friction. Low-particulate belts can also be purchased to replace standard drive belts to and shed fewer particles from daily operation. Another way to minimize belt debris is to shut down the system and thoroughly clean the belt drive unit and surrounding area both by vacuuming and wiping down the unit with an antistatic chemical and microfiber cloth. Air filters in the cooling system should be replaced at least every three months.

2. Regulate Operator Processes, Hardware Movement, and Installation 

Physical human presence in a data center generates contaminants in many forms such as dander being shed, hair and clothing fibers being shed. There are precautions to take to minimize these contaminants such as wearing caps and booties on shoes. Contamination control step mats can also be installed to remove debris from shoes and wheels entering the data center. The majority of operations that can be performed outside of the data center should be done as such. Hardware should be unpacked and assembled in a staging area outside of the data center. Materials such as cardboard or paper that shed particles easily should be left outside of the data center. All tools and equipment should be cleaned prior to entering the data center.

3. Minimize Exposure Points

The door of a data center is the primary exposure point for contaminants. There are a couple of solutions to prevent contaminates from entering the data center. One safeguard is to install a double set of doors to create a buffer from changing pressures to carry contaminates. Another good practice is to avoid automatic doors that offer less control over opening and closing, but rather install door triggers that staff can use remotely when wheeling carts in and out of the data center. All doors should fit as snuggly as they are able to within the door frame which can be achieved by using gaskets and sweeps at the door.

It is important to do a thorough cleaning/decontaminating regimen to protect your data center. Scheduled data center cleaning should be done regularly. All trash and debris should be removed from a data center daily. The access floor should be either damp mopped weekly or vacuumed with a High Efficiency Particulate Air (HEPA) filter to eliminate contaminate build-up.  It is recommended that all hardware and room surfaces be decontaminated quarterly to maintain proper function. The subfloor plenum and air-conditioning system should be decontaminated at least twice a year to prevent particles from entering the system and reaching hardware.